Book Review: “Falling & Uprising” by Natalie Cammaratta

Plus insight into book two: SCATTERED & BREAKING

I love a good YA dystopian book, and FALLING & UPRISING, the debut novel from Natalie Cammaratta did not disappoint! Told in alternating POV, the story  follows socialite Serenity and marshal Bram as they navigate a society built on lies and the revolution that has been brewing for many years. 

Everyone in Kaycie knows that their city is the last dry haven for humans. Kaycians enjoy a life of prosperity, safety, and glamour. Serenity thinks she has it all, until she learns the truth. The Establishment has lied to its citizens.

Other islands exist, their main purpose being to provide goods and labor to the glittering city of Kaycie. There is a major imbalance and people from the islands are suffering. Young people taken from their families, their memories erased, and forced into zombie-like service as marshals in Kaycie. 

When Serenity learns the truth and is offered a chance to make a difference, she takes it—much to Bram’s surprise. He’s known the truth for a long time, having been born on one of the other islands and rescued by Sophos, Serenity’s mentor and one of the revolution’s key leaders.

FALLING & UPRISING has a nice balance of dystopia, sci-fi tech, and YA glamour. I found myself immersed in Cammaratta’s vivid details—I would love some of the fabulous clothing worn by Serenity and her best friend Vogue. The story moved well, and I never felt bogged down with techno-babble.

The connection between Serenity and Bram worked for me. I liked their prickly beginnings and enjoyed watching the two very different personalities find common ground and respect for each other. Serenity’s attraction and relationship with Jase, another member of their revolutionary team, had a few sizzling moments and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with those two in the next book. 

The reader is left hanging a bit at the end as there is another book coming. However, many threads are tied up nicely, but I found myself saying—WAIT! MORE! I wanted to continue reading and will be anxiously awaiting the next book!

And guess what? I got to read book two!

Scattered & Breaking by Natalie Cammaratta

I was thrilled when Natalie offered to send me an ARC of SCATTERED & BREAKING! Yes, I actually squealed and there may have been some bouncing/dancing about.

Here are some of my thoughts:

It sucked me in from page one! Seriously. I didn’t want to stop reading.

Being back with Bram, Serenity, Vogue, and friends was so much fun, but boy are they dealing with a LOT.

Book two picks up after the uprising and deals with the fallout, lies, and corruption that entangles each of the characters as well as their friends and family. The islands are splintered, the sea water has receded, and there is another enemy at the gates.

SCATTERED & BREAKING is a deep dive into this dystopian’s world’s political intrigue, twisted family dynamics, and the determined group fighting to make things right.

The book kept me turning pages, the action fast, but Natalie also gives the reader deliciously tender moments where we suck in a breath and just go “oh.”

It’s about relationships, the good, bad, and the very bad. But there also is hope. However, hold on when you’re reading SCATTERED & BREAKING because it’s a ride! And not everyone makes it out.

I’m am so ready for this story to continue!

Where To Find These Books:

To get a copy of FALLING & UPRISING and to preorder a copy of SCATTERED & BREAKING, please go visit author Natalie Cammaratta at her site: nataliecammarattabooks.com/books.

You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

SCATTERED & BREAKING releases on December 29, 2021.

You’ve got plenty of time to read FALLING & UPRISING first & then dive right into the SCATTERED & BREAKING. I highly recommend BOTH.

Reading: Looking Back at Books Read

I’ve always enjoyed book recommendations from other readers and writers. It’s fun to see what you’re reading, and it’s a great way to add new-to-me authors and books to my TBR. Last year, I logged in 59 books read over at Goodreads and you can see those books here: Barb’s 2020 Goodreads Challenge.

What I’m going to do is go back and pick a few of my favorite reads from last year, and post them here on the blog under Book Reviews. Up first is: SCRITCH SCRATCH by Lindsay Currie.

I read “Scritch Scratch” by Lindsay Currie in September 2020. Fantastic middle-grade ghost story!

The following review was written and posted to Goodreads on September 5, 2020.

I had been looking forward to reading SCRITCH SCRATCH by Lindsay Currie for months (I had my preorder in back in January) and I’m super excited to report that I loved this book every bit as much as I thought I would when I first read its blurb! I thoroughly enjoy a good spooky ghost story, and always have.

This is totally a book 11-year-old me would have devoured in one sitting (took adult me two because life/responsibilities) and then pre-teen me would have gone back at reread it a week later (I’m thinking I’ll do my reread in October on a dreary day while snuggled under a blankie & sipping some hot chocolate.)

[And did she actually reread it in October? Yes. Yes, she did, enjoying it just as much the second time.]

SCRITCH SCRATCH is set in my favorite city: Chicago! Author Currie gives a well-constructed story told from the POV of 12-year-old, budding scientist Claire who has a mom with a baking business, older brother who can be annoying, and a dad who’s obsessed with Chicago ghost stories. It’s her dad’s obsession and job as an author of historical ghost books and the operator of a ghost-themed Chicago bus tour that throws Claire into something that takes her out of her comfort zone. One night when helping her dad during the ghost-themed bus tour, Claire actually encounters a ghost.

When that ghost begins to haunt her at home and at school, she’s faced with a tough decision: tell her dad and suffer the world’s worst embarrassment when he makes a huge deal out of an actual ghost (something she does not want her classmates to know) or try to figure out why she’s being haunted by a little boy ghost dripping with water before the spooky stuff hurts her or her family.

There’s so much to like about SCRITCH SCRATCH–from the haunting scenes that took me straight back to my own kid fears of being alone in my room thinking I wasn’t actually alone to the family dynamics, on-point middle school anxieties and friendships, and Claire, a character that I genuinely liked and who kid-me would have loved to hang out with years ago.

Lindsay Currie has a distinctive writing style and I thoroughly enjoy her books. If you’ve not read her PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET, grab a copy. There’s even a nod to its ghost in SCRITCH SCRATCH. You can feel the love Currie has for Chicago and its rich history, in particular some of its forgotten history. I highly recommend SCRITCH SCRATCH for kids who love to read spooky stories and for adults too–totally a book that should be on the classroom fiction shelf and in the school library.

Book Review: “Amari and the Night Brothers” by B. B. Alston

book cover for Amari and the Night Brothers on e-reader

AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS by B. B. Alston officially ranks as one of my fav middlegrade books. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent reading it and when I finished, I wanted more—so glad it’s the first book in a series. Its title is listed by HarperCollins as Amari and the Night Brothers: Supernatural Investigations: Volume Number 1. 

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

There was much to like about the book, so here’s a bit of the what’s-what:

Amari Peters isn’t from a posh neighborhood and is on scholarship to her private school, a place where she’s bullied. Her older brother Quinton has gone missing, and now she’s in trouble at school for standing up to the bullies. Things are a mess. But when she receives a strange briefcase from her missing brother and a nomination for a place in the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari goes on the hunt for Quinton. 

At the Bureau, she’s enrolled in the summer tryouts for Junior Agent and learning all about the supernatural and magical world that’s filled with magicians, dragons, fairies, sasquatches, and even talking elevators with their own distinct personalities. She’ll compete for a spot in the program against kids who’ve grown up in this fantastical world, while dodging enemies, and learning who she can and can’t trust. Not everything or everyone is as they seem. 

Amari worries she won’t have what it takes to make it through the Junior Agent trials, stand up to the bullies in her training class, learn how to use her own magic, and find her missing brother. 

So why did I like the book so much?

As I’ve said in my social media posts, I think AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS is immersive, imaginative, and thoroughly engaging to read. I was drawn in from the opening pages and had to read more. Amari is a kid I would have loved to have had as a friend when I was a kid. She’s smart, brave, compassionate, and fun. 

The magical elements in the book were fun and unique. I particularly fell in love with the elevators and I love Amari’s roommate’s inventions, especially the sneakandle. 

I most definitely recommend reading AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS by B.B. Alston. You can read more about the book here.

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

“Where do all these things start? Once upon a time. And you just . . . go from there.”

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Chapter 26

The beautiful cover of The Hazel Wood caught my attention, but the story by author Melissa Albert is what kept me captive.

The book falls into the young adult category with its 17-year old main character Alice. She’s lived a unique life with her mother Ella, never staying in one place for too long—the shadows of misfortune haunting each step and often the reason they must pick up and move on. Ella’s mother is Althea Proserpine, an author who’s only book is an out-of-print collection of odd fairy tales. Alice has never met her grandmother and her mother won’t let her read the book with its stories about the Hinterland.

Alice’s journey is dark and at times terrifying. She’ll lose her mother, her only friend, and even her life. Author Melissa Albert creates dark twists and turns throughout the world as we think we know it and the one just beyond, where the stories pulse with their own life.

I found The Hazel Wood to be immersive, imaginative, and a book I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the darker side to fairy tales. There is plenty of intrigue and mystery, and while the pace isn’t breakneck, the story kept me turning pages long after my eyes begged for sleep.

You can find out more about The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250147905

The sequel to The Hazel Wood is The Night Country, and it releases January 7, 2020.

Book Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

“Where were you when the dead were following me home?”

Alex Stern. “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo (Chapter 6)

Her name is Galaxy Stern but she goes by Alex. A California native, Alex dropped out of school and left her hippie mom’s home to run with her sketchy drug dealer boyfriend. By the age of twenty, Alex has seen it all. Then things go from bad to worse—she becomes the only survivor of a brutal murder. And the killer is still out there. But she receives a special visit during her hospital stay, a benefactor that offers to take her away from L.A. It’s a chance for a new beginning, far from her old life. Of course there’s a catch.

Alex arrives in New Have to begin a new life at Yale. She’s been enrolled as a freshman, but her benefactors have also given her a job. Alex now is part of a mysterious secret society. Yale is home to eight of these active and highly-secret societies who regularly perform rituals of magic to satisfy their wants and needs. Her job is to work with the others of Lethe House to “police” the societies and make sure protocols are followed and campus and New Haven stay safe.

When a town girl is murdered, Alex finds herself on the hunt for the killer. She fights ghosts, powerful magic, and more as she tries to unravel this mystery of this murder as well as one that happened decades earlier. Everything in New Haven is connected. She also has to face the truth about her own past and special abilities.

I enjoyed reading Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. It is atmospheric and a suspenseful thriller with enough mystery that kept me turning pages. Alex may be flawed, but Bardugo had me rooting for her. Alex’s evolution throughout the story was nicely rounded and believable. There really was a lot to Ninth House and it’s well worth picking up. For me, it was a different look at ghosts and how they may interact with the living. I especially like the Bridegroom; as I don’t do spoilers, just take my word, he has his merits.

Ninth House had plenty of twists and turns, a couple that surprised me and that was fun. While the ending was satisfying, I do like that it’s obvious that this is the start of a series and I look forward to reading the next book.

You can read more about Ninth House at Leigh Bardugo’s website.

Book Review: The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore

“Maybe fate and superstition were just our brains’ way of making sense of the world around us, creating a story to explain events.”

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Chapt. 5, page 34)

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore is the sequel to The Firefly Code, a middle-grade science fiction story set in the future. I love a sequel, especially when the first book captivated me with its story and characters.

Everyone is back in book two, Mori and her closest friends from Firefly Lane in Old Harmonie, the community run by KritaCorp. By the end of book one, we know new girl Ilana is a form of AI and the scientists from KritaCorp have decided to disassemble her. The kids decide to intervene and run away from Old Harmonie with Ilana on a mission to save her life. The Daybreak Bond opens with the Firefly Five outside Old Harmonie and on their own trying to make their way to Cambridge and the campus of MIT. At MIT, they hope to find Dr. Varden, the one scientist that may be able to help keep Ilana alive. 

I like stories where the characters/heroes are on a journey and must overcome obstacles, and The Daybreak Code delivers on that. Blakemore gives the reader five kids who leave their “utopian” community to brave the wilds of the countryside and rough cities where they know no one. On the 24-mile journey the face everything from dangerous dogs to electric fences and kids who know how to survive outside a KritaCorp community. Things get rough and not everyone comes through unharmed. However, the Firefly Five meet new friends and learn to trust others outside their group, while choosing to follow their hearts.

The Daybreak Code is a solid sequel to The Firefly Code, effortlessly combining lite sci-fi with dystopian elements and the universal truths of childhood friendships. I definitely recommend both books for middle grade readers and teens. As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and as a parent it’s nice to have books that you can enjoy with your kids.

Be sure to visit author Megan Frazer Blakemore’s website for more information about her books.

Book Review: The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore

“That’s another reason why I like it out there: things were left to nature to figure it out, and nature tends to be smarter than people.”


The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Chapter 3)

There’s something about strolling the stacks at the library and finding a book by an author you haven’t read, and then discovering that book is a complete gem. That’s what happened to me the other day when I found The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore. The book is middle grade fiction set in the near-ish future where the community of Old Harmonie is a type of utopia. However, things are never quite as they seem.

Mori’s grandmother was a scientist and founder of Old Harmonie. Because of her vision and others like her, Mori and her friends enjoy a peaceful and safe life on Firefly Lane. When new girl Ilana joins their group, things begin to change. She’s just a little too perfect and Mori wonders if Ilana is a natural or designed.

Parents in Old Harmonie can dampen and enhance their children’s genetic traits. When the kids turn 13, they also get their “latency” which is an awakening or “turning on” of a trait that will help serve them as they grow into adults. For some it may be more physical, a type of athleticism, while for others it’s something more cerebral like puzzle-solving. Mori’s not sure what her latency will be, but she knows she loves the outdoors and plants. It turns out Ilana shares those interests as well, but the new girl acts strangely at times and that worries Mori and the others. 

The Firefly Code explores the growth of friendship, as well as the coming-of-age in a society where it’s increasingly difficult to determine what’s real. Is the world outside Old Harmonie actually dangerous? What really happened to Mori the one and only time she was sick? Who is Ilana and why did she come to Firefly Lane? When her secret finally is revealed, the Firefly 5 has to decide what defines true friendship and humanity.

I enjoyed this book immensely and highly recommend it to middle grade and teen readers as well as adults. The characters are likable as well as easy to relate to, and the primary themes will speak to any reader.

The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore is a Bank Street Books Best Book of the Year (2017 Edition). Its sequel is The Daybreak Code. You can find more about the author and her books at her website: meganfrazer.com

Book Review: With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall

“Helen wondered how many couples had walked this very aisle today, this week, this month. Were they all insane to be marrying with a war going on, knowing they’d be starting their lives together, apart?”

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall, pg. 158
Photo by Barb Hopkins 2019

Readers who enjoy historical fiction mixed with romance won’t be disappointed when they pick up With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall.

I’ll admit, this is not the usual type of book I pick up (and you totally can tell that if you follow my book reviews or have scrolled through the pages on my site.) However, I’m so glad my neighbor recommended it and I listened to her and read it.

With Love, Wherever You Are is a book of fiction based on two real people: Helen Eberhart Daley and Frank Daley, M.D. Not only did Helen and Frank really exist, they are author’s, Dandi Daley Mackall’s, parents. Mackall has woven a beautiful, at times heart-wrenching, narrative that tells the fictionalized story of an army nurse and an army doctor who meet during World War II. It’s a tale of a whirlwind romance and wedding, followed by separation due to war and duty.

I read this book over the course of two days because I became so enthralled with Helen’s and Frank’s story. From their first meeting to the final days of the war, their story kept me turning pages. Without spoilers I will tell you that the place they met definitely was not a place where a young woman and man would normally meet in 1944. Author Dandi Daley Mackall takes readers on a journey, that is at its heart a love story set amid the horrors of the Second World War.

While Helen and Frank meet before D-Day, they don’t have much time to get married before they’re both sent overseas. They write many letters to each other throughout their deployment, more than 600 total according to the author notes, often writing two or three times a day. Before they are shipped out, the crafty couple devises a system, a code of sorts so they can tell each other where they are stationed. This had to be done because if they just wrote that out in a letter, the Army censors would have blackened those words out. Many of these letters are included throughout the book so you have a real sense of their emotions, personalities, and how the war affected these newlyweds.

When you pick up a copy of With Love, Wherever You Are be sure to read the author’s notes at the back, it’s a treasure trove and so much fun after spending 460 pages with Helen and Frank. She does tell the reader which characters were added for fiction, and other notes. I enjoyed that section as much as the story itself.

Please stop by Dandi Daley Mackall’s website and check out With Love, Wherever You Are and her other books.

Book Review: The Tesla Legacy by K. K. Pérez

“The truth was so much more X-Files than Lucy could have imagined.” (pg. 177)

Readers looking for a young adult, sci-fi thriller with mystery and even a bit of romance can find it all and more in The Tesla Legacy by K. K. Pérez. The story follows Lucy Phelps, an intelligent 18 year old in the last few weeks of her senior year of high school and the “shocking” information she uncovers about herself, her family, and the legendary Nikola Tesla.

Lucy has epilepsy, or so she’s been told her entire life. Because of that, she’s been sheltered by her parents shunned other kids, especially when she was younger. A budding and brilliant scientist, Lucy just wants to venture out on her own terms and that means getting away to college. She does have the love and support of her best friend Claudia, but things are a bit rocky with her boyfriend Cole. When Lucy accidentally discovers a hidden message in a photograph of her younger self, it leads her into New York City and an experience that will change her life.

After discovering the hidden Tesla room in New York, Lucy has her hands full. She’s promised Claudia she’d help with the lighting design for prom, there’s issues with her boyfriend, she needs to keep working on her science experiment, and there’s also this little (not!) issue of her newfound abilities that involve her ability to manipulate and control electricity. And let’s not forget the handsome new teaching assistant that’s taken an interest in her as well as the two rival, ancient, alchemical societies that each want Lucy for their own agendas.

I enjoyed The Tesla Legacy immensely. It kept me entertained and engaged, even during its science-y moments. For me, there was a nice balance between sci-fi and action as well as between the sci-fi and romantic elements. Lucy is a likable character and I found myself cheering her on as she takes a stand.

Author K. K. Pérez provides enough twists to keep a reader guessing, but not too many where it becomes tedious. I do like that we’re set up for a sequel and when it’s released, I’ll definitely be adding it to my TBR list.

Please go check out the other books by K. K. Pérez at her website and grab a copy of The Tesla Legacy today.

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

“It was the dawn of new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a videogame.”

(Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Chapter 0005, page 60)

Fun and entertaining—Ready Player One by Ernest Cline delivers more than just a nostalgic look at the games and pop culture from my childhood. The story is as immersive as the fictional OASIS, a mix of dystopia and sci-fi with plenty of action and references to satisfy my inner geek.

RPO

I did not read the book before I saw the movie and I’m glad I saw the movie first. Full disclosure, I really enjoyed the Ready Player One movie directed by Steven Spielberg and I’ve watched it multiple times. It’s the movie that prompted me to check out the book and want to read it; and I’m really glad I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

My advice: Don’t go into reading the book expecting to find the movie jammed between the pages. While they share the same title, characters, and overall theme, the Ready Player One book and movie really are two separate entities, both with their own merits.

Now, if you read the book first, I can see why maybe you didn’t care for the movie. Or maybe you did. Whatever. It’s my review and I liked them both, but have no issue keeping them as two different stories.

Let’s get back to the book. I liked it and plan to re-read it because there’s a lot to take in. It’s very detailed (okay, at times rambling) but I enjoyed the references and it didn’t take long for me to become invested in the journey of Wade Watts.

Wade Owen Watts (yes, his initials are W.O.W. and how fun is that when they’re entered into the high scorers screen of an old-school video game) spends his free time in the OASIS: the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. It’s 2044 and the world is a mess due to many factors including the Global Energy Crisis. The OASIS is a virtual utopia where humans can escape their depressing reality. Its creator has died but left behind a challenge; a game for gamers. If they can find the Easter egg Halliday hid in the OASIS, they inherit his vast fortune.

Halliday left three keys that had to be found followed by challenges to be won/solved before moving to the next key. Wade is on the hunt, one of the “gunters” going for egg, and his OASIS avatar is known as Parzival or “Z”.

Along with his best friend Aech (pronounced like the letter “H”) and other gunters known as Art3mis, Shoto, and Daito, they vie to reach each key and claim the ultimate prize. Throw in the corporate baddies and their leader Sorrento and the race is on.

The book is told in first person from Wade/Parzival’s perspective. It’s extremely detailed, almost too much at times, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the overall story and rooting for Wade to get to that egg and not let Sorrento win.

Do I recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline? Yes, I do for fans of light sci-fi that’s filled (brimming!) with 80s pop culture and gamer references.